“It’s Still Rock & Roll To Me: Defining A Genre That Has Defined A Culture”
I’m bound to be deemed a heretic in some circles for saying this, but my God if it isn’t kinda fitting to witness Americas favorite pixie cut provocateur Miley Cyrus induct Joan Jett into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Sure any number of rocks’ modern female flag bearers would’ve been a more obvious choice to have the honors, but it perfectly represents the dichotomy that has plagued the Hall for decades now: What EXACTLY constitutes as rock & roll?
Every Springtime-as certain as the trillium blossom-bloggers, journalists & barstool pundits reignite this same tireless debate. All of the heated discourse and table pounding falls on a house divided by two factions: Those who associate the genre with all of the typical tropes (Electric guitar; Songs about leggy girls; High kicks & cocksure swagger) and reject any deviation; And those (myself included) who argue that “Rock & Roll” is more of a social mindset that predates the sonic & aesthetic element it’s become synonymous with. After all, the term itself was only coined by Alan Freed some 7 decades ago. Does that mean it simply didn’t exist in any form before that?
Jett, whose own teen rag past seems to allude the Miley naysayers, summed up the latter argument perfectly in her speech: “…I come from a place where rock & roll means something. It means more than music, more than fashion, more than a good pose. It’s a language of a subculture that makes eternal teenagers out of all who follow it. It’s a subculture of rebellion, integrity, frustration, alienation and the glue that set several generations free of unnatural societal and self-suppression.”
By these standards alone, who’s to say an artist like Madonna, Grandmaster Flash or even recent left field head scratchers like steward of the American Songbook Randy Newman haven’t earned their place among the pillars with the likes of The Who or The Sex Pistols? What one dismisses as superficial commercialized pap one might find a voice, an impetus to strive for something greater not only in themselves but for society. I guarantee that of the 10,000 some odd attendees that filled Cleveland’s Public Hall for the ceremony, each one of the inductees meant something entirely different.
That’s not to say the other side of the argument isn’t absolutely crucial to rocks’ overall relevance; The very fact that they feel the genre is being ever bastardized has created innumerable acts that set out to save it. Pop begat psychadelia; The bombast arena rock begat punk rock. I see it as almost setting a controlled fire to assure new growth. For this reason alone, regardless of whatever facelift the paradigm of rock might undergo, there will always be the purists looking to reclaim its’ roots & educate the “misguided masses”.
It’s easy to shirk off presenters like Miley or Fall Out Boy (who inducted Green Day, another bygone eye roll of a prospective nominee) as pandering to a younger generations appeals, but chances are you’re looking at future inductees reserving their eventual seat at the table that Chuck Berry & Elvis built. Love’em or hate’em, it’s that drive that both camps argue with such vehemence that place them where they are and will inevitably be.
I know no side will ever be entirely satisfied but I for one welcome the endless contention. So long as there’s any question, Rock by any definition will remain an integral part of our lives & culture.